Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Planning a Road Trip?

It’s been along winter, but pitchers and catchers are starting to loosen their arms and head to warmer climes. Those of us in northern climates are yearning for 40-degree weather while dreaming of afternoons spent at the ballpark. In the coming weeks, thousands of baseball fans will gather in dank basements that reek of stale beer and break out their tattered road atlas with dreams of their summer adventures.

With the goal of seeing a game in each Major League City (even Miami), a few more dominoes need to fall this season to get a bit closer to that goal. So, after careful consideration, I've targeted the upper Midwest triangle of Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. There should be some good baseball to be seen in the rust-belt cities, assuming Pittsburgh has a decent opponent on the day you see them.

But a road trip is only half-determined by its destinations, the other half is how you make it happen. Here are a few rules to live by for summer roadies:

  • No expensive beer — This one is usually a fight, because there’s always the one guy that wants to show he’s a connoisseur of fine lagers. But you'll be dropping hundreds of dollars on tickets, so there’s no reason to drink yourself into the poorhouse for a few tasty brews. I shudder at memories of giving a friend $40 to buy beer for a party and watching him walk in with three six packs of beer with fruit in it. Several cases of PBR or High Life will do just fine.
  • The guy with the worst car drives — This may seem counterintuitive, but does anyone really want their drunken, smelly buddies in their new ride? Besides, road-tripping is a link to simpler times when we all drove hoopties with rust holes. If their car happens to break down, it only adds to the adventure and opens the possibility of the trip’s real treasure — a rental car.
  • Pick a side — In a baseball road trip, you're pretty likely to see a lot of games you don't give a dare about. During my west coast swing in ‘04, I saw the Angels (who I briefly forgot existed) on 6 different occasions. Regardless, it’s important to pick a side based on some whimsical or imaginary criteria that the group agrees on. If you can't think of any ridiculous criteria to choose a side for, root for the home team because there are less away fans to throw peanuts at you.
  • No hookers — Try for groupies instead.
  • Tailgate whenever possible — All stadiums are different, of course, but if there’s a parking lot you should have a grill and a cooler in it. If there’s not, hit up a local bar around the stadium. Always, always avoid chain restaurants — there’s nothing worse than a bunch of dudes hanging out at an Applebee’s.
  • No over-planning — take the tourist guide away from “that guy”. The trip is supposed to be fun, not a military operation in checking into hotels at exactly the right time to “get situated.” Wing it a little.

As you plan your road trips this summer, remember the rules — if you got more suggestions, drop a comment. If you've got any epic road trip stories, feel free to drop one of those, too. And if you're planning a road trip of your own, consider this thing the most useful moment in ESPN’s history.